How Sales VPs Are Like NFL GMs

If you are a VP of Sales, do you ever pretend that building your sales team is like the process of building an NFL team? Well, you should. Because your sales reps are like a quarterback out there on the field and it’s your job to bring in the right talent, give that person the tools to succeed out in the field and to call an audible in real-time.

Let me explain.

With the NFL draft starting tomorrow, the annual ritual of speculating about who will be the Browns’ franchise quarterback is in full swing. As a native Clevelander who has made my home in Boston, it’s been a rough 15 years. As the Browns have cycled through a staggering 22 quarterbacks since 1999, the Patriots have been rolling with Tom Brady for the past 13 years.

Sigh. What it would be like to have a franchise quarterback like Tom Brady (and better yet, to trip over a stone in your backyard known as a 6th round pick and it gushes oil for 15 years).

But it doesn’t take a once-in-a-generation player like Brady to be successful. It takes a quarterback good enough to read a defense and has the flexibility to call an audible and execute on it. Think Russell Wilson.

The sales analogy here is uncanny. Organizations with outside sales reps—a heavy investment for the company—don’t want to confine them to a set of a few scripted plays.  Yet how much noise have you heard recently that your sales team needs sales playbooks, which are scripted sales materials given to sales reps so that they don’t screw up? Guess what? Good reps don’t use them. I will repeat: good reps don’t use them.

Our President, Ed Calnan, used to run Sales at EMC Document Sciences. Here is his take on sales playbooks: “We purchased a custom-made sales playbook tool that ran a slick multimedia graphic on a tablet. I think that we spent $1 million on it. Limited use cases for it and unreliable, usage rates were literally 0 percent three months after deployment.”

Why were usage rates so low? It turns out they treated their sales team like they were the motley crew of Cleveland quarterbacks who needed technology to hold their hand because they couldn’t actually hack it in the big leagues.

Well, as it turns out, I would venture to say that your outside sales reps are more like Russell Wilson—a mid-round pick who has tons of leadership credentials and has a track record of winning.

And we no longer live in a world of a linear sales process where a scripted playbook works—the sales process is chaotic, with multiple buyers.

Scripted plays don’t work that well in the NFL, either. The only time you hear about scripted series is in the preseason or the first series of the Super Bowl to make sure players don’t let their nerves get to them.

Almost every single successful team in the NFL has a quarterback who has the flexibility to read the defense and change the play at the line of scrimmage.

When your sales reps are entering an important sales meeting and they see a new stakeholder is in attendance (think corner blitz), can they change the presentation on the fly to show the right message, or do they get blindsided?

Salespeople need tools that provide flexibility, not rigidity. Save playbooks for the minor leagues or the sales process of five years ago. If you’re an enterprise sales organization, I hope you don’t have a bunch of Brandon Weedens (sorry, Brandon).

And if you have drafted well, your team deserves technology that lets them score amidst the chaos of the sales process.




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